Sunday, October 18, 2009

Border Crossing Chapter 1

Mom likes to tell the story of my young young childhood age, when I was just slightly over three years old and came back to Taiwan with the rest of the family as dad decided to take upon a new job post back in his own home country finally, after 15+ years of residence abroad.

Having been taken care of during the day primarily by my next next door neighbor, Mrs. Irv., English was my only means of communication even though my ability to speak itself remained somewhat limited to a mere 3-year-old.

"But your grandpa loved you!" mom always starts her story like this. "At that time, you were still very tiny, always sitting quietly like a little barbie doll on the high chair."

Barbie doll? Mom, I thought you told me in another story that I suddenly became this rowdy, short-tempered kid after going back to Taiwan 'cuz my world had suddenly turned upside down, with all of my closest playmates and Mrs. Irv. disappearing out of the blue?

Anyway, the story goes on.

"You were a very well-mannered kid. Mrs. Irv taught you to say, 'More please,' whenever you want to have more servings. So each time, grandpa would purposely put just a little less than the usual amount in your plate and then expect you to hand in your little plate after awhile and say those magical words - 'More please!'"

How would grandpa know what that means?

"Yeah, I had to explain what it means to him." Mom put in the addendum. "But he was SO fond of that little you, speaking in those pretty, perfect English tones."

Right. Grandpa probably was SO fond of me and see me as this strange, little Chinese-looking yet American-born/raised "barbie doll" who speaks in this funny language called English.

Of course, some other stories of mom go like this -

"You were a naughty little kid, always fooling your grandpa around."

Alright, mom, you just contradicted yourself. You said that I was a good barbie doll always sitting on my high chair, well-behaved?

"I can't remember how many times I spotted you running fast ahead of grandpa on the way home after he picked you up from daycare. Grandpa's leg had already started to develop problems at that time, so he couldn't walk very fast."

Twinkling tears begin to circle in mom's eyes.

"Did I know that grandpa had trouble walking?"

"Of course you did! Kids know everything! That was why you would purposely run faster than him and let him chase after you. You knew that grandpa would never really get angry at you."

The thing about human memory is, you sometimes remember the most random yet forget the most important. The "More please" story and the fooling-grandpa-around story never remained in the parameter of my memory.

But I do remember one thing, a flash of a scene that for the longest time I thought was just a scene from a vivid dream until I confirmed with mom that it actually happened.

That cold, winter night when showers (or snowflakes?) were pouring outside our house in South Bend, Indiana and our whole family packed up and bundled up like Eskimos, waiting for the car to pull into the driveway.

In my fragmented memory, I remember vividly the car that slowly pulled into the driveway, the beams of rain reflected through the headlights of the car, and, most oddly, the completely darkness in the house. Had my parents already switched off the lights knowing that the car has arrived, or was the image of the reflected rain stayed so strongly in my mind that the rest of the world around me seemed so much darker in comparison?

The next scene, we were on a small, dimly-lit little plane on our way to somewhere. I was still shaking in the cold even though I was already buckled up in my seat and supposedly no in-flight temperature could be that low. But for some reason, the dampness of the rain and the cold air blown out of my nose and mouth never left me.

Years later, I saw a picture in the family album. There were the four of us, standing in front of a Christmas tree in an airport-like public space. There was me, dressed up like a chubby eskimo in my khaki-colored winter coat. I had only a slight smile on my face probably b/c I still couldn't get over how cold it was.

"Where were we going, mom?"

"Oh, this is the day when we left the U.S. to go back to Taiwan! This was taken at the airport at South Bend. We had to first take a small plane to Chicago and then transfer from there."

So that was definitely more than a dream.

"Was it really cold that day? Like it was showering or something?"

"Yah, how do you know?" Mom was surprised. "It was right after Christmas day and the weather was terrible. Come to think of it, it probably wasn't a good idea to have the whole family of four riding on such a small plane like that ..."

Could I have somehow felt that it was more than just a regular going-away on the weekend and thus my brain made a mental note to itself, asking the memory to stay?

What about the rest of the lost memories? Could they have stayed in the memories of others and be retraced now, or have they always remained deep inside of me, exerting influences in other ways, such as maintaining that perfect English accent of mine even though all the grammar rules and phrases had slipped out of my communication system just months after moving back to Taiwan?

My first leaving home experience, going to a land of unknown though a land called home for my parents. My first "cross-cultural" interchange with my dear old grandpa, and my first encounter with meeting people who are not foreign but act and speak and behave like foreigners to me or me like a foreign doll to them.

"Border-crossing" - it has and will never remain just an academic jargon or theoretical debate to me. Nor will I ever allow it to be.

梅ちゃん at 1:02:00 PM



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